Dr. Terence Lester is a storyteller, public scholar, speaker, community activist, and author who is the Founder and Executive Director of Love Beyond Walls, a nonprofit organization focused on raising poverty and homelessness awareness and community mobilization.
At the age of sixteen, Terence was a high-school dropout and a member of a gang. A rebellious teen, he lived on the streets and even attempted to take his own life. At twenty, he was arrested.
In jail, he met a man who talked to him about life decisions. It was the first time he had ever heard the good news. By the start of the following year, he was submitting to a call to share his testimony to change the lives of others.
Three ideals drive Terence: (1) anyone can make a difference, (2) we don’t live forever, (3), and it’s worth dedicating one’s life to ensuring no one feels invisible.
He’s known for nationwide campaigns that bring awareness to homelessness, poverty, and economic inequality. His awareness campaigns have been featured on MLK50, CNN, Good Morning America, Essence Magazine, TEDx, TVONE, Creative Mornings, USA Today, NBC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) National Magazine, NBC News, AJC, Black Enterprise, Rolling Out, and Upworthy. These campaigns have been viewed by millions of people worldwide.
In 2016, Terence led the March Against Poverty, where he walked from Atlanta, GA (the SCLC Headquarters) to the White House (over 800 miles) to bring attention to homelessness in the U.S.
Terence led the 2018 March Against Poverty as he walked from Atlanta to Memphis (386 miles). He finished the march and spoke at the historic Lorraine Motel for the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination.
In 2019, Terence opened Dignity Museum, the first museum in the U.S. to represent people experiencing homelessness—out of a shipping container.
Terence has delivered countless sermons and speeches at conferences, churches, schools, corporate settings, classrooms, and several unique spaces, including the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington, DC, The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Center for Civil and Human Rights, CCDA, Radio One’s Praise in the Park, Morehouse College, Alabama University, and Paine College.
He has spoken on the same platform as many other Civil and Human Rights Activists, such as Dr. Bernice King, Roland Martin, Gina Belafonte, Dr. Vonnetta West, Carlos Rodriguez, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and Tamika D. Mallory.
Terence’s approach combines storytelling and digital media to help illustrate social justice issues with practical strategies to solve these ailments.
He holds an A.A. in Media Production (2005), a B.A. in Pastoral Leadership (2008), a Master of Education in Counseling (2010), a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (2012), and a Ph.D. from Union Institute and University with a concentration in Public Policy and Social Change (2023).
He has served on several ministerial staffs and has authored seven books and three traditionally published works, including: I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People, When We Stand: The Power of Seeking Justice Together, and All God’s Children: How Confronting Buried History Can Build Racial Solidarity, all with InterVarsity Press.
He also has a children’s book coming out with IVP Kids that he co-authored with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Zion Lester, which deals with homelessness, belonging, inclusion, and encouraging children to serve others with empathy and compassion.
Terence has also received numerous awards for his community activism, including being named one of Atlanta’s top 500 leaders by Atlanta Magazine, being named one of Coca-Cola’s History Shakers, receiving the National Urban League Humanitarian Award, Brawny Giant Award, the American Express NextGen Award, the SCLC Social Advocacy Award, Atlanta Voice’s 50 under 50, the True to Atlanta Award presented by the Atlanta Hawks, Fulton County Schools Service Award, and Plywood People’s Innovator Award.
Terence is happily married to his best friend, Cecilia Lester, and they have two amazing children, Zion Joy and Terence II.